Why Freddie Freeman feels more settled this year with Dodgers
He snuck up behind Mookie Betts and lifted him into the air. He hugged Gavin Lux. He exchanged a smile with Max Muncy.
Rather than nervously absorbing an unfamiliar new environment, Freddie Freeman met up with friends.
“It’s nice to know everyone now,” Freeman said of coming to spring training this year compared to last year.
Freeman values comfort, which is why the all-star first baseman is taking extra measures to feel more comfortable in his second season with the Dodgers.
He’s looking for a home near Dodger Stadium to shorten his 90-minute drive from Orange County.
And last week he spent nearly an hour on a golf cart parked next to the Dodgers’ administrative offices at Camelback Ranch explaining how he thinks and works.
Freeman wasn’t interested in reviving our conflict from last year, which centered on my objections to how he tried to portray himself as some kind of victim when the Dodgers were playing at his longtime baseball home in Atlanta. His preference was to start from scratch.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time together,” he said.
What really stood out last year, and again here, was how much Freeman wants to be liked.
Freeman did not disagree with the characterization. He conceded it was “very fair” to assume that part of him made the move from the Braves to the Dodgers particularly difficult.
“I think anyone who takes on a new job never really knows what’s going to happen or how it’s going to go,” Freeman said. “The first day when I walked in here and didn’t know anyone in this clubhouse other than the guys I was playing against, it was a bit annoying. In the first few days you will always be a bit unsure.”
How human of him. How strange.
In the competitive world, results breed acceptance, and there aren’t many safer bets in baseball to get results than Freddie Freeman, who batted a cumulative .305 in his last six years with the Braves.
Manny Ramirez walked into the Dodgers’ clubhouse and immediately acted like he owned the place. He knew he would produce.
Yasiel Puig entered the same room and immediately acted like he owned the house. At least he thought he was going to produce.
“That’s not me,” Freeman said, laughing.
Freeman got the validation he was looking for at the Dodgers’ home opener last year, when pretty much everyone in the ballpark started chanting his name after he doubled in the eighth inning of a win over the Cincinnati Reds.
“It’s almost like they knew I needed a little momentum to get going,” he said. “It was a relief that all the fans felt for me and my family.”
The chants continued throughout the season. When the Dodgers hosted FanFest earlier this month, fans chanted not only his name but also that of his 6-year-old son, Charlie. He has become one of the most popular players on the team alongside Betts, Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias.
Freeman offered the audience reasons to cheer. He showed a flair for the dramatic and hit out whenever he had something to prove.
He scored in his first batting against his former team, which took place at Dodger Stadium in mid-April. He was four for 12 with three walks in the Dodgers’ three-game streak two months later in Atlanta. He amassed four hits and was dropped from the National League team on the day the original All-Stars roster was released. (He was later added to replace a player who dropped out.)
Heck, he burst into tears after I wrote a column criticizing him.
“Which?” he asked. “You wrote two.”
Let’s say the first one, released online on July 1st, for the sake of argument. Freeman hit .345 in the 84 games remaining after that particular column came out. He finished the season in .325 batting with 21 home runs and 100 runs batted.
But Freeman resisted the view that he was deliberately upping his game at critical moments.
“I’m trying not to get up,” he said. “I’m trying to stay [even].”
Freeman ran his hand through the air in a straight line.
“My goal is to play 162 every year,” he said, “and for that [manager Dave Roberts] to be able to register and not have to worry. That’s all I can try.
“If you get up, you will fall.”
He said he tries to stay emotionally balanced while playing baseball, regardless of what’s going on around him, regardless of what turmoil he experiences off the field.
However, consistency should not be confused with a lack of intensity. Freeman says he tries to give everything he’s got, whether he’s playing in a game or preparing for one.
Freeman’s description of himself matched what Roberts said about him. While Roberts observed a lack of energy in his team as they lost to the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series, he said that description didn’t fit Freeman, who batted at .357 in four games.
Roberts was basically saying that Freeman didn’t have to take the opportunity because he was already there.
“He doesn’t take a pitch” all season, Roberts said.
With Freeman feeling more comfortable by a year, Roberts hopes to spread his consistent-intensity form throughout the Dodgers’ clubhouse and names him one of the candidates to replace Justin Turner as the team’s voting leader.
But when that happens, Freeman wants it to happen organically.
“If I walk in and say, ‘I’m going to be the leader, guys,’ that’s weird, isn’t it?” Freeman said with a chuckle.
However, track records are currency in clubhouses, and Freeman is a six-time All-Star. I told him that when he speaks, people will listen.
“For me, I’m doing this one-on-one and sitting in a cage,” Freeman said.
He is particularly interested in two players who could decide the course of the Dodgers’ season, Lux and Miguel Vargas. The young midfield pairing could return the Dodgers to their familiar position as World Series favorites or blow up their season entirely.
Beginning shortstop, 25-year-old Lux has played at second base for most of his major league career. Vargas, 22, is the predicted second-place starter, despite spending most of his time in the third-place minors.
Vargas said he does the same field drills as Freeman, including drills on his knees and with a flat glove.
“I do the exact same routine as him,” Vargas said in Spanish.
Lux erupted when asked about Freeman’s influence on him, telling The Times Dodgers beat writer Jack Harris that he keeps his locker clean because Freeman told him to. Freeman’s philosophy is that small things done right make big things happen.
“It’s like my dad telling me to do my chores,” Lux told Harris. “I don’t think there’s a better person than Freddie Freeman and he’s obviously a great player. So when you put those two things together, you’ll be listening when Freddie speaks. Whatever he says, I probably will.”
Freeman is a great player. He has proven that beyond a doubt in his 13-year career. As for Lux’s assessment of him as a person, I’ll have to see him in more character-reveal moments with the team before I’m fully convinced.
We have time. Including that year, five guaranteed years remain on his contract. As he said, we will spend a lot of time together.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2023-02-22/freddie-freeman-in-year-2-with-dodgers Why Freddie Freeman feels more settled this year with Dodgers